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Home > Books > Mason > North American Bows, Arrows and Quivers > The Arrow - Part 8
The Arrow
Part 8 of 9

Most tribes of North America do not use any cement in fastening the head upon the shaft. The shrinking of the sinew is quite sufficient to hold all snugly in place. But in the Southwest of the United States, the Algarobia glandulosa, the Prosopis juliflora, and the Laria mexicana yield excellent gum, which is used by the Shoshonean and Yuman tribes to attach the arrow-head, without the use of the sinew.[35] (PL. III, fig. 2.) Pine tree pitch and animal glue are also used.

The feathering of an arrow is an interesting study from place to place. It is governed by a host of considerations. As to this characteristic, arrows may be unfeathered, two feathered, three feathered, many feathered. The feathers vary in length from those only an inch to others a foot long; in adhesion, from those attached only at their extremities, and lying close or standing off, to others glued hard and fast to the shaftment their entire length. In some tribes the strips of feather are laid flat along the shaftment, as among the Eskimo and the west coast tribes, but in the great majority the feathers radiate from the shaft. In some tribes the strips of feathering are without ornament, in others they are shorn along the margins to be straight, triangular, and notched and a bit of downy feather is left at the nock as a streamer. In this respect, when carefully cut, some of the west-coast arrows present a decidedly natty appearance.

On one occasion an Apache Indian came to the author's department of the National Museum and, at his request, placed the feathering and head upon an arrow. The feathers were split carefully and any excessive pith or horny portion of the quill removed. The pieces to form the feathering were trimmed to the same length. The Indian next shredded some sinew, which had been sent to the Museum from Hupa Reservation in California, prepared by the relatives of the Apaches that had been separated from them for centuries. This he chewed until it was soft and pliant. He was now ready to lay on his feathers. They were placed on the shaftment, wrapped slightly at the ends with sinew to hold them in position until they could be adjusted to suit his rigorous taste, at equal distances apart and at the proper distance from the nock. Placing the shaft under his left arm and holding the soft sinew in his right arm, he revolved the arrow with the thumb and fingers of his left hand and guided the wrapping with his right hand. Here was a primitive machine, with shaft and two bearings, used for the purpose of winding evenly a thread upon a spool. The wrapping or "seizing" of an Indian arrow is a very pretty and uniform piece of work. Mr. Hough calls attention to the operation of this Apache fletcher and gives drawing.[36] Among the northwestern Eskimos it is common to neglect the seizing of sinew and to insert the ends of the quill portion of the feather into the soft wood by means of a pointed ivory implement. As mentioned, very many Eskimo arrows are found without feathers at all, the very heavy foreshaft or iron head carrying the arrow forward with sufficient accuracy. On the other hand, many of the barbed harpoons and bird tridents of the Eskimo are provided with feathers. In the feathering of an arrow one feather must be uppermost, called in archery the cock feather. In some beautiful specimens from Cooks Inlet and near by one feather is snow white. But the author has examined many hundreds of arrows without being able to detect that the arrow-maker had in mind to draw attention to any one of the feathers so as to create a true bottom and top to his missile. In the Eskimo two-feathered arrow there is, of course, always one feather on top and another under.

The number of feathers on a North American arrow is an exceedingly variable quantity. As a general rule the Eskimo have two and the Indians three. This will do pretty well as a rule, but many three-feathered and no-feathered arrows occur in Eskimo land, and among Indian tribes no-feather arrows are common. The function of the feather is to retard the rear end of the missile and cause the arrow to go straight. This object being capable of accomplishment in other ways the feather may be omitted.

The feathering of an arrow must be studied:
(1) The species of bird from which the feather is taken.
(2) The number of feathers, two, three, many.
(3) The shape and trimming of the feathers.
(4) Method of attachment, by siezing, or gluing, and to each of these there are many varieties.
(5) The part of the feather attached to the shaftment, close glued, standing off, or seized all along by a spiral sinew thread. In many museum specimens the glue has disappeared and feathers appear standing off that ought to be close laid.

The feathers of arrows are usually laid on in a line with the shaft, but many examples have come to light in which the feathers have a spiral direction on the shaftment. On one occasion the writer saw an Apache Indian finish the feathering of an arrow by seizing the two ends of the feathering and giving them a twist, simply to make the feathers lie flat on the arrow shaft. This goes for what it may be worth in accounting for the spiral position of many feathers. It is inconceivable that any savage should grasp the problem of the rifle bullet and construct his missile accordingly.

Captain J. G. Bourke, U. S. A., furnishes the following: "The Apaches use three hawk feathers, arranged equidistant along the shaft in the direction of the longer axis, fastened with sinew.

"The Uabes on the Amazon use three feathers spirally. (Wallace, Amazon, London, 1853, 493.)

"The Pimas of the Gila have two feathers instead of three. (Cremony, 103.)

"Mackenzie states that the Hare Indians of British North America who are, like the Apaches, members of the great Tinneh family, use but two feathers. (Voyages, London, 1800, 46.)

"According to Morgan, the arrows of the Iroquois had but two feathers and ended at the power extremity in a twist. (League of the Iroquois, N. Y., 1851, 306.)

"The arrows of the Apache-Yumas are feathered spirally with three feathers making a quarter-turn around the shaft. (Corbusier, in Amer. Antiquarian, November, 1886.)

"Maximilian, Prince of Wied, speaks of the feathers of the Mandan arrows being tied on at both ends like those of the Brazilians; he also speaks of the spiral line, either carved or painted red, which runs along the greater number of arrows, and says that it represents the lightning. (London, 1843, 389.)

"The explanation I received was that the runnel permitted the escape of blood and reduced the chances of expelling the arrow or the shaft."[37]

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